Michael Kownacky

Program Host

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.

You can also hear Michael, along with his The Dress Circle co-host, on JazzOn2, every Wednesday evening from 7pm, eastern, for Strike Up the Band, a program celebrating the big bands and dance bands of jazz.

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Siegfried Wagner’s opera, “Die Heilige Linde,” a 1927 rarity, is the featured work on this week’s Sunday Opera (1/20 3:00 p.m.).  His fourteenth of seventeen operas (if you don’t count “Das Liebesoper” for which there is only a libretto), the work seems to follow in the footsteps of the two men who had the most influence in his life, his teacher, Engelbert Humperdinck and his father, and even though it was completed in 1927, there’s no record of it being performed until 2001.  

This week’s Dress Circle (1/20 7:00 p.m.) epitomizes that great television interjection, “But wait!  There’s more!” as we look at some “bonus tracks” from the age of the CD.  With the advent of a CD being able to hold 80 minutes of music, many companies gave us material from cast recordings, film scores, and demo recordings that was never available in the age of 78’s and LP’s.  

We’re shining a spotlight on Welsh actor Jonathan Pryce on this week’s Dress Circle (1/13 7:00 p.m.).  American audiences may know Pryce primarily from his appearance as The Engineer in “Miss Saigon” for which he won a Tony Award or his film appearances as Peron in “Evita,” Sam Lowry in “Brazil.” 

Venetian composer Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari is the featured composer on this week’s Sunday Opera (1/13 3:00 p.m.) as we look at two of his works.  The first is his only example of verismo opera in “The Jewels of the Madonna” which is about the willful Maliella who is loved by two men: her adoptive brother, the gentle blacksmith Gennaro and the blackguard leader of the local Camorristi, Rafael who only wants her because she’s a virgin.  Our cast includes Pauline Tinsley, Peter Glossop, Malcolm King, Andre Turp, and Valerie Cockx.  They’re joined by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under the direction of Alberto Erede.  

An afternoon of wonderful melodies will be showcased on this week’s Sunday Opera (1/6 3:00 p.m) when host Michael Kownacky brings you two works by Franz Lehar.  We’ll begin with “Das Land des Lachlens” (“The Land of Smiles”), a romantic operetta which features the very popular song “Das ist mein ganzes herz” (“You Are My Heart’s Delight”).  

2019 is being welcomed in on The Dress Circle (1/6  7:00 p.m.) as we look at some of the shows that opened in New York in January.  We’ll sample songs from hits like “Beautiful The Carole King Musical,” Lynn Arhens and Stephen Flaherty’s “Ragtime,” Charlie Smalls’ “The Wiz,” and George and Ira Gershwin’s “Strike Up the Band” as well as Jerry Herman’s “The Grand Tour,” Albert Hague and Arnold B. Horwitt’s “Plain and Fancy,” and a few other favorites.  If you’re detoxing from the holidays, Broadway musicals are the perfect fit. 

Entering the New Year is a daunting thought for many, but on this week’s Dress Circle (12/30 7:00 p.m.) we’re going to try to help with some words of encouragement from the musicals.  With that in mind, “Don’t Be Anything Less Than Everything You Can Be” because “You Never Know What You Can Do Until You Try.”  “Keep a Stiff Upper Lip” as you “Take the Moment” because “Every Day Comes Something Beautiful.”  “You’ve Got to Look Out for Yourself” and “Keep a Stiff Upper Lip” so that you can “Make Someone Happy.”  Oh, just “Come Out of the Dumpster” and “Get Happy”!

For many, New Year's celebrations include partying and good music.  Well, on this week’s Sunday Opera (12/30 3:00 p.m.), we’ll be supplying a musical soiree with Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus” from a recording made in 1960 featuring Waldemar Kmentt as Eisenstein, Hilde Gueden as his wife Rosalinde, Erika Koth as the flighty Adele.  

Oddly enough, it’s Christmas on The Dress Circle this week as well (12/23  7:00 p.m.).  Join Ted Otten and Michael Kownacky for an hour of nostalgic Christmas favorites including a 1953 radio broadcast of “A Christmas Carol” featuring Laurence Olivier as the narrator and Scrooge with an excellent, if unnamed, supporting cast.  Charles Laughton is back by popular demand with his delightful reading of a selection from another Dickens work, “The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club” and the section titled “Mr. Pickwick’s Christmas” recounting a joyous evening of a long-gone era.  

Christmas comes to the Sunday Opera this week (12/23 3:00 p.m.) when Michael Kownacky is presenting two contemporary works based on beloved Christmas stories.  First, we’ll visit George Bailey in Bedford Falls for Jake Heggie’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  With a libretto by Gene Sheer, we’ll follow Clara (Talise Trevigne) as she tries to finally earn her wings by helping Geoge (William Burden) see is true worth.  This tale of redemption also features Andrea Carroll as Mary, Rod Gilfrey as Mr. Gower and Mr. Potter, Joshua Hopkins as Harry, and Anthony Dean Griffey as Uncle Billy.  Patrick Summers leads the Houston Grand Opera Chorus and Orchestra in this recording made in 2017.  

The work of Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson will be showcased on this week’s Dress Circle (12/16 7:00 p.m.) as we look at their musical written with lyricist Tim Rice that mixes personal relationships and political intrigue played against the background of the international chess tournament.  “Chess” began as a concept album in 1984 and made it to the London stage two years later where it stayed until 1989.  It crossed the Atlantic to Broadway in 1987 but had a much shorter stay of only 68 performances.  

We’ll be celebrating two works of Edward German (German Edward Jones) on this week’s Sunday Opera (12/16 3:00 p.m.) with his operas “Merrie England” and “Tom Jones.”  Basil Hood wrote the libretto for the patriotic romance “Merrie England” featuring a romantic rivalry centering around Elizabeth I and Sir Walter Raleigh who was in love with Bessie Throckmorton, one of the queen’s ladies in waiting.  The cast features William McAlpine, June Bronhill, Monica Sinclair, and Peter Glossop.  

After EVITA, Andrew Lloyd Webber wanted to work on something a bit less massive, and on this week’s Dress Circle (12/2 7:00 p.m.), we’ll look at that smaller show’s beginnings on TV and growth into a full evening for the stage.  The musical is “Tell Me on a Sunday” and tells the story of a British girl’s relationship adventures in the United States.  The television special starred Marti Webb, and she also appeared in the West End production when it became “Song and Dance” with the addition of Webber’s “Variations” which he wrote for his cellist brother Julian.  

The heroic folk-legend of Swiss patriot William Tell is this week’s Sunday Opera (12/2 3:00 p.m.) from Opera Southwest.  Gioacchino Rossini’s opera, with a libretto by Etienne de Jouy and Hippolyte-Louis-Florent Bis which was based on the play by Friedrich Schiller, features the love story of Arnold and Mathilde told against the Swiss fight for freedom, led by Tell, from the Austrians who have been in power for one-hundred years. 

Ancient Babylon is the setting for this week’s Sunday Opera from OperaDelaware (12/2 3:00 p.m.) with Gioachiono Rossini’s last Italian opera, “Semiramide” featuring a libretto by Gaetano Rossi based on Voltaire's tragedy “Semiramis,” which in turn was based on the legend of Semiramis of Assyria.  Nicknamed by some as “’Tancredi’ revisited,” the story deals with the power-struggle of Queen Semiramide who was one of the people responsible for the death of her predecessor.  

The composing team of Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones enjoyed a collaboration that lasted over 60 years but are still probably best known for only one of their shows, "The Fantasticks."  We thought we'd remedy that on this week’s Dress Circle and take a look at some of their work which may not be that familiar from shows such as the Julius Monk revue “Demi-Dozen.”  

Just in time for the holidays, we’ll be spending an afternoon with Edgar Allan Poe on this week’s Sunday  Opera (11/25 3:00 p.m.).  We’ll begin with two versions of Poe’s novella “The Fall of the House of Usher” from the San Francisco Opera.  This supernatural tale deals with the final days of the Usher family after the premature burial of Madeline.  The first version is Gordon Getty’s “Usher House” which will be followed by Claude Debussy’s fragments of “La Chute de la Maison Usher” which were completed by Robert Orledge.  

Teaching has its side effects, and one of those is the need for “calendar art”!  The Dress Circle program this week (11/18 7:00 p.m.) is an off-shoot of that need as we present a Thanksgiving program – of sorts.  In the past, we’ve looked at family, food, and “thanks” as themes, but this time, we wanted to share with you some of the theatergoing events for which we’ve been thankful over the years.  

An opera based on an 18th century Chinese work called the “pinnacle of Chinese fiction” by Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang is this week’s Sunday Opera (11/18 3:00 p.m.).  “The Dream of the Red Chamber” is a huge work that features some forty main characters and over four-hundred secondary characters.  In this San Francisco Opera version, the focus has been fine-tuned by librettist David Henry Hwang.  

Our years teaching English have gotten the better of us on this week’s Dress Circle (11/11 7:00 p.m.), and we’ve turned to the world of literature for our theme as we look at Emily Bronte’s 1847 romantic tragedy “Wuthering Heights” through stage and screen adaptations.  Join us for selections from Alfred Newman’s score for the film as well as an aria from Bernard Hermann’s opera.  

We could all use some levity just now, and there will be an afternoon of it when this week’s Sunday Opera (11/11 3:00 p.m.) features the San Francisco Opera production of Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” where a poor and rebellious nephew and his beloved teach his conniving uncle a lesson about love and family.  The cast includes Maurizio Muraro in the title role, Lawrence Brownlee is his nephew Ernesto, and Heidi Stober as Ernesto’s beloved Norina.  

… And suddenly, it’s November!  As usual, this week’s Dress Circle (11/4 7:00 p.m.) will celebrate the new month by looking at some of the shows that opened on Broadway in November, and we have quite a hefty list from which to choose.  Some of the shows we’ve chosen, which span over 114 years, include the forgotten Rodgers and Hammerstein musical based on a novella by John Steinbeck entitled “Pipe Dream,” the big Tony Award winner from last year by David Yazbeck, “The Band’s Visit,” and the Elton John / Tim Rice massive stage hit, “The Lion King.”  

Welcome to December!  As usual, we’ll be starting the month with a selection of songs from shows that opened in New York in December on this week’s Dress Circle (12/2 7:00 p.m.).   We’ll be sampling material from over 100 years of Broadway magic that begins with Victor Herbert’s 1906 operetta “Mlle. Modiste” and ends with 2017’s “SpongeBob SquarePants.”  Along the way, there’ll be songs from “Drood,” “City of Angles,” “Kiss Me Kate,” “Show Boat,” and “The Music Man” as well as some other familiar works.  It’s all about Broadway openings this week on The Dress Circle! 

Beaumarchais’ trickster Figaro is the central figure on this week’s Sunday Opera (11/4 3:00 p.m.) in the San Francisco Opera production of Giaochino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.”  Luca Meacham is the wily Figaro, Daniela Mack the lovelorn Rosina, and Rene Barbera the fickle Count Almaviva.  Joining them are Alessandro Corbelli as the greedy Doctor Bartolo, Andrea Silvestrelli as Don Basilio, and Catherine Cook, Edward Nelson, and Efrain Solis as Berta, Fiorello, and Ambrogio.  Giuseppe Finzi conducts.  

We begin a series from the San Francisco Opera on this week’s Sunday Opera (10/28 3:00 p.m.) with Umberto Giordano’s love story set during the French Revolution based loosely on the life of its title character, the poet Andrea Chenier.  The production features Yonghoon Lee as Chenier and Anna Pirozzi as his love, Maddalena.  The remainder of the cast includes George Gagnidze, Joel Sorenson, Robert Pomakov, Catherine Cook, Jill Grove, and David Pershall with Nicola Luisotti conducting.  

Audra McDonald will be featured again on this week’s Dress Circle (10/28 7:00 p.m.) as we take a second look at her career “So Far.”  This time, we’ll be including selections from her performance as Bess in the 2012 revival of “Porgy and Bess.”  We’ll also be sampling songs from several of her solo CDs by the likes of Rodgers and Hart, McHugh and Fields, Kern and Wodehouse, Arlen and Gershwin, and Bernstein and Sondheim to name a few.  It’s a celebration of one of Broadway’s most delightful leading ladies, so join us for a happy hour in the Dress Circle.

The Dress Circle didn’t make it back to school this year, but we’re going remedy that in a way on this week’s program (10/21 7:00 p.m.) as we do what most students do the first few weeks of school, “Let’s Revue.”  We’ve never done a show in our 35 plus years that looks solely at revues, and we thought it was about time.  We’ll begin with one of the granddaddies of all revues, the “Ziegfeld Follies of 1919” with John Steele singing Irving Berlin’s “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody,” a song that became synonymous with the “Follies.”  

We’ll be going “down to the sea in ships” on this week’s Sunday Opera (10/21 3:00 p.m.) with an encore production of Jake Heggie’s version of “Moby Dick.”  Jay Hunter Morris leads the cast as Captain Ahab, and he’s joined by Joshua Guerrero as the Greenhorn (Ishmael), Morgan Smith as Starbuck, Musa Ngqungwana as Queequeg, and Jacqueline Ehols as Pip.  The performance features James Conlon leading the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra.  

We never like to do this type of a program, but we felt compelled to remember another wonderful performer whom we lost far too early on this week’s Dress Circle (10/14 7:00 p.m.) as we look back at the career of Marin Mazzie who passed away after a three-year battle with ovarian cancer on September 13 at the age of 57.  For us, we’ll always remember her iconic performance as Mother in “Ragtime” where she stopped the show with her incredibly moving performance of “Back to Before.”   We were also thrilled to see her spirited performance as Lilli Vanessi / Katharine in the 1999 revival of “Kiss Me Kate.”  These two shows alone are testament to her versatility and power.  

A trickster and a vengeful husband are featured on this week’s Sunday Opera (10/14 3:00 p.m.) in Giacomo Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” from his collection “Il Trittico” and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s “Paglicacci” from Los Angeles Opera On Air.  The afternoon begins with Placido Domingo as the scheming Schicchi who tricks the bickering Donato family out of part of their inheritance by pretending to be their dead relative, Buoso, and writing the will Buoso left unfinished.  Joining Domingo are Andriana Chuchman as Schicchi’s daughter Lauretta, who sings the much loved aria “O mio babbino caro,” her beloved Rinuccio is Arturo Chacon-Cruz, and Meredith Arwady as the imperious Zita.  

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